No consensus on political issues reached by Asean parliamentarians

Mr Charles Chong (centre) with the Singapore delegation at the signing of a joint communique for the 39th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Sept 6, 2018.
Mr Charles Chong (centre) with the Singapore delegation at the signing of a joint communique for the 39th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Sept 6, 2018.PHOTO: PARLIAMENT OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Asean parliamentarians reached an impasse on sensitive political issues at the 39th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (Aipa), with no consensus reached in a committee formed to discuss them.

These issues range from maritime security cooperation, regional terrorism resilience and the humanitarian situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Aipa comprises all 10 Parliaments of Asean and holds a yearly forum, where members exchange views and specific committees discuss and adopt resolutions on regional matters.

This year's assembly, which ends on Thursday (Sept 6), was hosted by Singapore's Parliament over a four-day period at the Raffles City Convention Centre. About 350 delegates attended the forum.

While none of the seven mooted resolutions was adopted by Aipa's committee on political matters, Singapore's Speaker of Parliament and outgoing Aipa president Tan Chuan-Jin said it is important that member countries were able to meet to discuss difficult issues in the first place. No political committee was formed in last year's general assembly in the Philippines as the countries could not agree on its agenda.

"The fact that we are prepared to set aside our differences and come together to discuss them, that is an important point to register," said Mr Tan in a press conference on Thursday.

He did not elaborate on which issue was the most difficult, but said the delegates agreed on many points and were ultimately unable to come to a consensus due to technicalities, such as the wording of the resolutions.

Bukit Panjang MP Teo Ho Pin, who chaired the political committee, said the committee discussions on Wednesday had been "the most engaging" one in the forum. The discussions were closed to the public.

"Based on the principles of Asean, we looked at the resolutions we discussed and we have quite a number of common areas in which we agreed upon, and straightaway we know that the countries have different viewpoints too. That is the reason why there was no consensus in the resolutions," said Dr Teo.

Aside from the political matters committee, other committees in social, economic and women issues were more successful in passing a range of resolutions. A total of 25 resolutions were passed in the past four days, with each requiring unanimous agreement from each country to be passed.

On economic matters, the committee chaired by Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa saw Aipa countries commit to strengthening cooperation in cross-border data flows for cyber-security reasons, and to addressing the impact of trade tensions between the US and China as a region.

The Women Parliamentarians of Aipa, chaired by Workers' Party chairman and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim, passed two resolutions on promoting women entrepreneurship and empowering women in harnessing technology at work and school.

The committee on social matters, presided over by Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, also saw delegates resolve to promote digital literacy and combat fake news. Dr Lim said the discussion focused on information sharing among member Parliaments as the emerging threat of fake news is new to the Asean Parliaments.

With all 10 Aipa members signing a joint communique on Thursday, Mr Tan said the next step is for the respective countries to adopt these resolutions in their own ways.

He added: "The key thing is that we are all committed - obviously, we are all parliamentarians and a lot depends on our own governments in the respective countries and working together with them.

"Importantly, our role as parliamentarians is to represent these ideas and views for our people. As many of these things go, it is not just policymakers who pass policies - you do need the will of the people to be involved."

The next Aipa General Assembly will be held in Bangkok in August 2019.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story said that last year's Aipa general assembly was in Laos. It was in the Philippines. We are sorry for the error.